Terry Gross and the Art of Shutting Down


I never thought I’d wish for a trigger warning until this week, when this long and loving NYT profile of Terry Gross appeared and, with marksman-like aim, shot me back to a day that lives on in infamy, if only in my own head. And, sadly, somewhere deep in the Fresh Air archives.

Back in 2012 I had the remarkable opportunity to be interviewed by Terry Gross and… it was a complete disaster. Months later Zoe and I unpacked the experience here at the Rumpus. But this week, reading the NYT piece I was struck by how much Gross’s m.o., as recounted by writer Susan Burton, is true to my experience to the letter, from Gross’s self-effacing introduction (“Hi, I’m Terry”) to her instructions on how to proceed if things get too personal.

When I had my failed interview, however, I longed for a touch of that much-lauded empathy to manifest itself off the record. I remember vividly—as I groped for words and flop sweat soaked my shirt—wishing that we could take a true break. Wishing that Terry Gross would say, “Hey, hold on a second. This isn’t going well; you seem very nervous. What’s up? Are you okay?” Things might have turned out differently. But she didn’t. Instead, those long pauses that so many observers credit with fostering intimacy, and creating a feeling of safety, only served for some reason to shut me down.

Martha Bayne is a writer and editor in Chicago. She is editor-in-chief of Belt Magazine, an ensemble member with Chicago's Theater Oobleck, and author of Soup & Bread Cookbook: Building Community One Pot at a Time (Agate, 2011), a narrative cookbook drawn from the long-running community meal project she organizes at Chicago's Hideout bar. For more go here; find her on Twitter @marthabayne. More from this author →